Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Chapter 2, Part 9: Mediation as Possible Strategy When Negotiations Are Stuck

NEXT: The Potential use of Level of Care Assessments to increase foster care rates and the amount of adoption assistance that may be negotiated.

In the last blog post, I wrote about the provisions for mediation of disagreements over the amount of Title IV-E Adoption Assistance in the July 1, 2014 rule revisions.  It occurred to me that if parents resorted to mediation in large numbers, it might serve as an effective strategy for bringing the shortcomings of the negotiation process to the attention of state.

The first responsibility of adopting parents, of course, is to the well being of their children.  If they are able to negotiate an adequate amount of adoption assistance smoothly, or through patience and persistence, then there is no point in testing the mediation process.

Mediation is a potential strategy when negotiations are stuck.  For example, the county agency refuses to budge from a proposed amount of IV-E Adoption Assistance the parents regard as insufficient, one that may be far below the child’s foster care payment rate. 

Or, suppose, the child has specialized care needs and is receiving a monthly foster care payment that is significantly higher than the maximum statewide adoption assistance payment of $1,045 per month, established in the revised rules of July 1, 2014.  The parents seek a waiver request from the county, but the county refuses to make a waiver request.  Mediation might present an opportunity to demonstrate the need for a waiver of the statewide maximum payment.  The mediation process might bring the large gap  between the foster care payments, based upon the child’s level care, and the amount of adoption assistance offered by the county agency into sharp focus.

The mediation meeting may also provide an opportunity for the parents to present a level of care assessment using a widely accepted standardized assessment instrument, conducted by an appropriate medical provider or mental health care professional.  (See next blog).

Some county agencies, of course, are responsive to the child’s needs and the family’s circumstances.  Others are not, resulting in unacceptable inequities in the negotiation of adoption assistance across county boundaries.   

With respect to those intransigent county agencies, if parents resort to to mediation in larger numbers, parents will inject longer delays into an already flawed negotiation process.  State policy makers, if nothing else, may be exposed to the non compliance of a number of agencies and take steps to exercise greater oversight and improve negotiation practices.

So if you get stuck in the negotiation of Title IV-E Adoption Assistance, explore mediation as possible option to get things unstuck.  It is too early to know if mediation will be at all effective, but it will buy parents time and, in so doing, may pressure county agencies to be more reasonable and compliant with federal and state policy.